Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
The long wait is over Garth Brooks's seventh, but was it worth it? For the most part, yes. He starts off promisingly enough with the Steve Wariner co-penned single "Longneck Bottle," hitting the country vein hard and right and Brooks vocally into it.
Brooks maintains far more of a country vein than previous recent efforts. The instrumentation with a good amount of fiddle from Rob Hajacos and steel from Bruce Bouton help keep the musical intensity without Brooks needing to go into overdrive ("I Don't Have to Wonder"). Brooks switches gears by going Jimmy Buffett in "Two Pina Coladas, striking a country Carribean vibe, which works. Yes, there are a few uptempo numbers ("Take the Keys to My Heart"), but Brooks doesn't get carried away. Fortunately, Brooks tends to shy away from the overkill for which he has sometimes been consumed by. Few if any overwrought vocals here. He gives a harder edge to the Tim O'Brien/Darrell Scott composition "When There's No One Around," giving it more of a country than bluegrass feel. He is on target with "Fit for a King" about a homeless man on a mission for the Lord.
The message tends to be positive throughout the 14 songs, six written by Brooks. By far, the most touching is the closing "Belleau Wood," based on a true story about how soldiers on both sides of World War I sang "Silent Night" on the battlefield. "In Another's Eyes," the duet with Trisha Yearwood, is reprised to fine effect. "How You Ever Gonna Know" finds Brooks singing "How you ever gonna know/if you never chase the dream." "She's Gonna Make It" find the woman making it "and he never will."
A few songs - "She's Gonna Make It" and the clunky "A Friend to Me" - tend to comparatively fall flat, usually victim of a melody going nowhere. Sounding generic, the uptempo "Do What You Gotta Do" would have worked far better without heavyhanded drumming and top heavy vocals.
With a few twists and turns, a fortunate lack of histrionics, and probably a huge nod to producer Allen Reynolds, Brooks keeps it country, mostly to fine effect. This disc even makes you hope the next wait won't be so long.